Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Kudzu Moves from Nuisance to Nutrient?!

My dad lived in South Carolina two times, once when I was just heading into my freshman year of college and at the end of his life. When I spent a semester at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, I became familiar with this fascinating vine that grew everywhere: kudzu, a plant native to China and Japan and introduced to the U.S. in the 1930s for "erosion control."

While kudzu chokes trees and causes problems with power lines with its astonishing growth--up to 4 feet a day in the summer--it's also an amazing plant, great for returning nitrogen to depleted soils (it's a member of the legume family), nutritious and appealing to livestock (although difficult to package up), and, now, also taking its turn as a promising superstar on the nutritional supplements red carpet.

Kudzu extract is being studied at Harvard to reduce alcohol cravings--perhaps through better metabolism of alcohol and changes to the rewards circuits in the brain. According to the Wikipedia entry on kudzu:

Kudzu also contains a number of useful isoflavones, including daidzein (an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent). Daidzin is a cancer preventive and genistein (an antileukemic agent). Kudzu is a unique source of the isoflavone puerarin. Kudzu root compounds can affect neurotransmitters (including serotonin, GABA, and glutamate.) It has shown value in treating migraine and cluster headache.[7] It is recommended for allergies and diarrhea.[8]

Research in mice models suggests that kudzu is beneficial in women for control of some post-menopausal symptoms, such as hypertension and diabetes type II.[9]

In traditional Chinese medicine, where it is known as gé gēn, kudzu is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs. It is used to treat tinnitus, vertigo, and Wei syndrome.

I saw a news release this morning that links puerarin from kudzu to reduced blood pressure, reduced blood cholesterol, and also to improved blood sugar regulation, a hugely interesting finding with all the diabetes and metabolic syndrome that modern diets bring. According to the researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, puerarin from kudzu steers blood sugar away from fat cells and blood vessels and toward muscles, where sugar can be used instead of stored.

Even better news is that the kudzu extract had no side effects on the rats that were tested over a 2 month period. And, if puerarin ends up being a genuine superstar, physicians could drop the dosages of insulin management pharmaceuticals by adding a natural supplement that appears to come without the side effects of pharmaceuticals.

Those of y'all living in the South just may have a gold mine in your backyard instead of a nuisance. Kudzu may be your newest best friend!

1 comment:

Marlene said...

Great news! However, I guess you're assuming the kudzu could actually be given as a supplement and not as a medication with all of the nasty side effects modern pharmaceuticals seem to have. Big Pharma will have their antennas out on this one, I bet! When I watched the 60 Minutes show about resveratrol, I could clearly read "supplement" on the bottle when it was held up, but later in the show they were talking about it as a medication. What does that tell you?
Keep up the good work!
Marlene